"Context of the Odd Body"
Portrait of Oliver Klaassen
Acrylics on 12"x12" canvas.
Where to begin?
Well, I could be doing finals; perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve decided to paint and write this instead. I’ve been having more and more wonderful conversations with people from the greatest array of backgrounds …
I’ll start with Oliver …. I have had two classes with Oliver this semester, a course on Race & Ethnicity and a course studying Black Art. He has a very striking appearance, and it makes him very recognizable on campus; it’s been my observation that many people refer to him as one of the most beautiful people they’ve ever seen. It probably wasn’t that far into the first month of school when I, too, noticed a particular flare that set him apart from other people I’d met.
Outside of appearance, I think what struck me as interesting about Oliver was this sense that we must have shared a common interest somewhere, though I wasn’t sure where to pinpoint it. He didn’t necessarily look like the type of person I would usually associate with. One day, out of the blue, he complimented my style asked about my major; I explained my complicated academic plan … that was probably our first verbal interaction. My artistic instincts ignited around that time, and I had, at some point, decided that I was going to paint him.
Fast forward to around halfway through the semester, Oliver would stop in to the academic center where I work as a secretary, and we got into a few conversations. There was one day during art class where we were sharing information we’d discussed in one of our assignments -- he brought up an idea that really struck me, for some reason. The phrase he used was “representation without body,” and it was probably at that moment that I realized I wanted to talk more with him.
Allow me to digress, for a moment, in order to describe my recent approach to creativity…..
If you haven’t read some of my earlier descriptions, you might not be aware of all the wonderful experiences I have been having, in associating with all kinds of people. I have decided that conversation is one of my biggest priorities -- conversation and connection are what I want out of life right now. In making this decision, I have been on the constant watch for people who seem like they have something to say. I don’t discriminate so much on what the topic is …. I don’t even really ask all that many questions ….. it’s just been interesting sitting down, sharing food, and letting things unfold organically with people. From one conversation to the next, I’ve been the most inspired by recurring topics and themes that manifest, and the discussions themselves have ranged in quality from interesting to absolutely life-changing. There hasn’t been one where I didn’t learn something new or adopt a fresh perspective….
Oliver is one of those people I decided I need to talk with. He gave a presentation a few weeks ago that analyzed an art installation by an ideal weight of colorful candies, put together by the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Among an endless amount of other things, the artwork strived to address matters of representation and explored several topics related to LGBTQ communities, including the impact of AIDS. Oliver brought candies for us that day. I wanted to melt mine and use it to paint with …. I still might ….
Just prior to his presentation, I’d eavesdropped on a conversation about Skittles … I thought of colors, and I thought of art….
I could go on for hours about every detail I remember from this day, but that might have to wait for a less busy time and another painting! But essentially, following Oliver’s fascinating presentation, I hung out and had dinner with two rather inspiring people (one of whom I’ve mentioned before and another who granted me new inspiration!)~
At one point, one person talked about a comment they’d heard that compared multicultural classrooms to Skittles … how that was a questionable word choice, and, by my understanding, terminology that contributed to a dehumanizing ideology, fostered by dominant discourses of society.
I think I bit my tongue in that moment, trying to fathom what it was the universe was trying to tell me with all these rainbow candy references! And another term stood out to me: “beautiful creature.” Interesting that shortly thereafter, I should be referred to by this term, in an unrelated circumstance!
What, then, is the connotation of this term, and does the it vary depending on the body and history of the subject it’s describing? Body, beauty, creatures, creatura, grandmothers, context ….. Who are beautiful creatures in the context of conversation, caged by a skeleton of letters, within a body of words … we return to representation without body …. we are led to representations of the face, disrupted by color, as perhaps they sometimes seem to be in reality.
Soon after all of this, Oliver decided to purchase “Could This Be Earth”, my portrait of Frank Ocean. I had lunch with him and another amaaaaaazing person (the excess vowels are beyond necessary, this friend is one the of the greatest people I’ve met!), and we got into a wonderful discussion about standards of art, communications, underrepresented communities …. way too many topics to list. At some point, Oliver asked if I would paint him … I don’t think it was necessarily a secret to other parties at the table that I’d been wanting to paint his portrait, so my typical, giddy reaction was no surprise.
“Context of the Odd Body” is representative of a few different things. I think first, it’s significant because it is the first iridescent portrait I’ve done of someone that I actually know. Up until this point, I have been painting celebrities and people whose messages reach me at a distance; to a certain extent, this has been tantalizing! Also, it’s been difficult making sure that the work I do is not idolatrous, or rather, that it portrays the life of a human and not the commercial image of a celebrity. There are time and life constraints that come with always having such subjects …
Ultimately, I have had a series in the works that will include the images of a select number of people I admire and am inspired by (two of whom I’ve mentioned here!). By my estimates, this project could take years … I am so excited to begin, though. This piece has opened many doors….
I guess, the second representation here is of Oliver himself! I’ve chosen to describe him here in the context of his relationship to me, his presence at inspiring times, and all the ideas he’s opened my eyes to, pertaining to the betterment of my creativity …. but I don’t know if I can describe him beyond that. Since my work isn’t meant to be biographical, I don’t think it’s relevant to list his background. .. I wasn’t there for that~! I can tell you that he is incredibly intelligent and is doing great things to challenge the dominant perspectives of society. I love that my first impressions were tested as I got to know him, and I deeply admire the genuine passion with which he speaks, especially when talking about LGBQT issues and REPRESENTATION! (It all comes back to that!) He is not my usual subject matter, and yet he is, in that he is distinct and different (“odd”) by the caged standards of our world ….. I am so grateful to have had the chance to meet him this semester, and I am ridiculously excited (as always, beyond words) to see where his passions take him!